The adjective totalitarian meaning:
Of or pertaining to a system of government which tolerates only one political party, to which all other institutions are subordinated, and which usu. demands the complete subservience of the individual to the State. (OED)
derives from the Italian totalitario coined in the 1920s as a description of fascism.
However in the list of OED examples below, several of them use totalitarian in a non-political sense. E.g. from 1936 a reference to the corporate and totalitarian character of the Christian response to God. And from 1937 totalitarian scholarship.
This morning, on the BBC's programme The Big Issue, an Islamic member of the contributing group talked about the human conscience being totalitarian. I believe that what he meant by that was that conscience had control over every aspect of life. But the remark did raise eyebrows.
My question is whether the term totalitarian can be used to describe such things as religion, art, culture, etc. And if so, what meaning does it have? And does it simply mean "having the nature of totality"? Would it not be appropriate for the OED to recognise a separate non-political sense of the term?
1926 B. B. Carter tr. L. Sturzo Italy & Fascismo ix. 220
Anti-Fascism..has, however, a positive sense if it is taken to represent an element antagonistic to the ‘totalitarian’ and absolute position of Fascism.
1929 Times 2 Nov. 7/5 A reaction against parliamentarism..in favour of a ‘totalitarian’ or unitary state, whether Fascist or Communist.
1936 E. Underhill Worship xii. 251 This cultus is, in origin, an acknowledgement of the corporate and totalitarian character of the Christian response to God.
1937 E. Pound in Germany & You 25 Apr. 95 (heading) Totalitarian scholarship and the new paideuma.
1937 E. Pound in Germany & You 25 Apr. 96/2 In 1937 we are concerned with the reintegration of the arts in totalitarian synthesis.
1940 Hutchinson's Pict. Hist. War 2 Oct.–26 Nov. 183 We have all heard lately about total or totalitarian war. It has been defined as conflict between nations taking the place of armed forces. Every citizen is in a sense a combatant and also the object of attack.
1951 H. Arendt Burden of our Time iii. x. 303 Totalitarian movements aim at and succeed in organizing masses—not classes.
1964 H. Marcuse One Dimensional Man i. 3 ‘Totalitarian’ is not only a terroristic political coordination of society, but also a non-terroristic economic-technical coordination which operates through the manipulation of needs by vested interests.
1977 M. Walker National Front i. 15 The totalitarian society is a single-minded structure. It mobilizes all its resources under one authority to achieve one goal.